Master of Saint Lucchese

(Active in Florence 1340 - 3370 c.)

Crucifixion with the Sorrowful and Mary Magdalene Beneath the Cross, c. 1370

Tempera on gold ground panel, 51 x 23 cm (20.08 x 9.06 inches)

  • Reference: 704
  • Provenance: Florence, private collection
  • Note:

    We would like to thank dr. Angelo Tartuferi for confirming the attribution, after having studied the actual painting

Descriptions:

The small painting is generally in good condition. The most sensible abrasions of the painted surface are visible in the upper part of the cusp, in the marginal punched decoration, in Christ – especially on the face and torso – and in the angels who are collecting his blood. From the very first sight we can clearly understand the high quality of the painting, especially if we consider the parts in the best state of conservation: for instance, the sorrowful Virgin, wrapped in the cloak to express a controlled and, we should say, noble and elegant sadness, in her slender proportions and implied in the undoubtedly fine drawing. The lively facial features of the soldiers divided in two compact groups behind the Sorrowful are just as important: they clearly reveal in their style the cultural background of Orcagna, and we believe that this is of fundamental importance to guide us in the proper critical definition of the panel. As far as the drawing is concerned, the angel on the lower right, whose head is raised and turned towards Christ, is worthy of attention despite the pronounced deterioration. These pictorial aspects and the usage of the space attest to the artist’s uncommon expertise. The tonsured figure with thick beard next to Saint John, wearing the black dress and the wide white hood around the neck, can be identified as the religious – most likely belonging to the Augustinian Order – for whom this painting was intended.

Our panel culturally and stylistically belongs to the master context of the Florentine tradition following the style of Giotto, yet with clear echoes of the style of Orcagna, as previously said particularly visible in the facial features of the soldiers in the background. In Florence, just after the mid 14th century, the so-called Master of San Lucchese – strong and original anonymous artist whose conventional name derives from the great polyptych of the high altar of the basilica of San Lucchese in Poggibonsi that depicts the Crowning of the Virgin with six angels and Saints Zanobi, John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene and Francis, destroyed in a bombing during the Second World War – brought to a high level the cultural synthesis between the famous figurative tradition of Giotto and Maso, and the stylistic features of Orcagna, who was at that point already heading towards a full success.

At the beginning of his activity the affinity between this painter and the style of Maso di Banco is particularly strong, as clearly visible in the portable triptych of the Alana Collection, probably datable around 1340; in this painting Maso’s art is very present yet mediated with a great lyrical sensibility, and features extraordinarily smooth and very delicately blended shapes, with aspects seen also in the Crucifix of the Museum of Holy Art in San Casciano Val di Pesa (Florence), a painting we can undoubtedly refer to our painter.

In the following phase of his career, the artist approaches the art of Nardo di Cione and Giottino, while in the last period – announced by the beautiful tabernacle which is part of a private collection and about which I wrote a few years ago and dated around 1360 – he tends to strongly embitter the chiaroscuro of his paintings, giving his figures a very lucid plastic, almost metallic thickness – such as in the polyptych of San Lucchese or in the Madonna previously in the church of Saint Paul in Carteano, today part of the collections of the Diocesano Museum in Prato –, resulting in paintings that are not far from the contemporary production of the young Jacopo di Cione. We believe that our Crucifixion could be inserted in the last period of the Master of San Lucchese’s activity, most likely datable around the beginning of the 1370s, as a comparison with the Sorrowful Virgin and the well know Madonna with Child on Throne of the Cleveland museum suggests. The stylist features in common with our Crucifixion quite correspond to the more advanced paintings of this important anonymous personality, similar especially to the style of Jacopo di Cione. See, for instance, the elegant slenderness of the figure of the sorrowful Virgin, also visible in the saints at the base of the Crowning of the Virgin of the Lindenau-Museum in Altenburg. Furthermore, the comparison with the altarpiece sold at a Sotheby auction in Milan on 28 November 2006 (lot n. 255), is also meaningful; Everett Fahy has referred this painting to the Master of San Lucchese, yet this reference is not fully convincing due to the level of the quality, visibly inferior to our panel. We believe that that painting can be ascribed to one of the painters close to Jacopo di Cione, and it is useful to highlight the greater quality of our painting: the latter fully deserves to be inserted in the catalogue of the important anonymous painter, which could be identified thanks to Boskovits’ suggestive hypothesis with the mysterious “maestro Franciescho lo quale istae in bottega dell’Andrea (Orcagna)” (“master Franciescho part of the workshop of Andrea (Orcagna)”, mentioned in the 1349-50 document from Pistoia listing the best painters active in those years in Florence. Our panel might have originally been the central element of a small tabernacle with wings for private devotion, or a plate of a diptych.

Angelo Tartuferi

 

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